Residents are concerned the planned school in Skyland Park in Brookhaven will exacerbate traffic problems, but most understand the school is necessary, they expressed at a July 5 public meeting.
The city of Brookhaven and DeKalb County Schools held a meeting at the community center in the park to share updates on the upcoming construction of the John Lewis Elementary School planned for where Skyland Park is currently located. The nearby State Vital Records Office will soon be demolished and that site will become the new Skyland Park. About 40 people came to the meeting.
The DeKalb BOE last year purchased the park from the city for $4.7 million and the office building from the state for $2.8 million.
The school is being built to help alleviate overcrowding at nearby schools in the Cross Keys Cluster, including Dresden, Montclair and Woodward elementary schools.
Construction on the new park will begin first, as officials hope to open the park near when the old park must be shut down to begin constructing the school.
The city plans to begin construction of the park July 18, Brian Borden, the director of Brookhaven’s Department of Parks and Recreation said, and they hope to have the park open by January 2018. Borden said residents will hear explosions from demolitions in the coming weeks.
The soccer fields may have to be shut down so water management systems can be installed, but Borden said they will find other fields so games can continue.
Construction of the school will begin in October and will open for the 2019-2020 school year, Dan Drake, the director of planning for the DeKalb County School District, said at the meeting.
The school will be the fifth built from the same design. Others include the Barack Obama Magnet School of Technology in south Atlanta’s Gresham Park neighborhood and Fernbank Elementary School in Druid Hills.
Many of the details about construction and the timeline will be determined during a July 11 joint meeting between the park contractors and school contractors, Borden said.
A resident said during the meeting she is unhappy with the sudden decision to build the school and the lack of public input for that decision, and Drake responded that real estate deals are too fragile to have public input during land sales.
Some residents are concerned about tree loss, noting their importance for shielding kids playing at the park from the sun and traffic noise. Officials at the meeting said the only trees that will be cut down will be at the border between the new park site and the school, and replacement trees will later be planted.
The two creeks that run around the perimeter of the current park site will also be preserved and remain mostly undisturbed, Drake said. The public will have access to a nature path along the creek after school ends, he said.
Both the new park and school will have its own playground area and will not be sharing one playground, Dorden said, in response to confusion and questions.
Richard Meehan, a city traffic engineer, said the traffic study done by the school district and reviewed by the city found that the area will be able to accommodate the extra traffic, but they will likely need to use traffic measures, like restricting left turns, to keep cars off of neighborhood roads.
A final traffic plan will have to be made after the redistricting process so officials know where children attending the school will be coming from, Meehan said. The process relies on public input and will be conducted in 2018, Drake said.
A Drew Valley resident said, despite the traffic study, she is worried the traffic will be too much for her neighborhood.
“I think this is the wrong place to put the school. I don’t think this area can handle the traffic,” Dr. Beverly O’Neill, a retired former DeKalb County Schools teacher, said. Several other residents also brought up traffic concerns during the meeting.
Another resident who did not want to be named said while she is skeptical this location was the right choice, she is optimistic the new school will solve overcrowding problems.
“I’m excited for the school, and I think a brand new school is a great thing,” she said.
Borden said they will hold additional update meetings and launch a project website to keep the public informed. DeKalb Schools has formed a construction advisory committee which hold meetings open to the public. Details on those meetings and the website are forthcoming, Borden said.